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Unformatted text preview: le (Kshatriya), the peasant/tradesman (Vaishya), and
the servant (Shudra). Only the members of the three upper
classes participated fully in social, political, and religious
life. This scheme underlies the rigid caste system that later
became fundamental to Indian society. CRAIMC01_001-039hr.qxp 28 8/12/10 3:57 PM Page 28 Part 1 Human Origins and Early Civilizations to 500 B.C.E. Material Culture The early, seminomadic Aryans lived
simply in wood-and-thatch or, later, mud-walled dwellings.
They measured wealth in cattle and were accomplished at
carpentry and bronze working (iron probably was not known
in India before 1000 B.C.E.). They used gold for ornamentation and produced woolen textiles. They also cultivated
some crops, especially grains, and were familiar with intoxicating drinks, including soma, used in religious rites, and a
kind of mead.
References to singing, dancing, and musical instruments suggest that music was a favored pastime in the Vedic
period. Gambling, especially dicing, appears to have been
popular. One of the few secular pieces among the Vedic
hymns is a “Gambler’s Lament,” which closes with a plea to
the dice: “Take pity on us. Do not bewitch us with your
fierce magic. Let no one be trapped by the brown dice!”
The Brahmanic Age left few material remains. Urban
culture remained undeveloped, although mud-brick towns
appeared as new lands were cleared for cultivation. Established kingdoms with fixed capitals now existed. Trade grew,
especially along the Ganges, although there is no evidence
of a coinage system. Later texts mention specialized artisans, including goldsmiths, basket makers, weavers, potters,
and entertainers. Writing had been reintroduced to India
around 700 B.C.E., perhaps from Mesopotamia along with
Religion Vedic India’s main identifiable contributions to
later history were religious. The Vedas reflect the broad development of Vedic Brahmanic religion in the millennium
after the coming of the first Aryans. They tell us primarily
about the public cult and domestic rituals of the Aryan
upper classes. Among the rest of the population, non-Aryan
practices and ideas likely continued to
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flourish. Apparently non-Aryan elements
are visible occasionally even in the Vedic
texts themselves, especially later ones. The Upanishads
(after ca. 800 B.C.E.) thus refer to fertility and female
deities, ritual pollution and ablutions, and the transmigration of the soul after death.
The central Vedic cult—controlled by priests serving a
military aristocracy—remained dominant until the middle of
the first millennium B.C.E. By that time other, perhaps older,
religious forms were evidently asserting themselves among
the populace. The increasing ritual formalism of Brahmanic
religion provoked challenges both in popular practice and in
religious thought that culminated in Buddhist, Jain, and
Hindu traditions of piety and practice (see Chapter 2).
The earliest Indo-Aryans seem to ha...
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